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Why people fail to make a new habit and what you can do about it

Making new habits is easy, right? All you need is a reminder, a routine and a reward. Simple, huh? Research shows it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit. Studies on New Years Resolutions have found that 22% of people break their resolution within the first week, 40% after just one month, 50% after three months and at the four month mark 60% of people have broken their resolution, or failed to create their new habit.

Why do people fail to make new habits?

In my experience there are several reasons fail to make a new habit.
  1. They declare a wish instead of picking a habit.
    “I am going to start exercising.” “I am going to eat better.” “I am going to save money.” These are all wishes (and good goals) but they are not habits. A habit includes a specific action.
    “I will do the Jane Fonda workout.” “I will eat salad.” “I will move money to my savings account.” These are all actions.
  2. They make the initial habit too big.
    “I am going to run five miles a day.” “I am going to eat home cooked organic food all the time.” “I am going put 30% of my salary in my retirement account.” Where are you starting from? Start small and build it up over time. Do you run at all at the moment? If not, perhaps a one mile is a better starting point. Once you have run a mile a day for a month then increase it to two miles and so on. If you eat junk food every day consider swapping your afternoon candy bar for an apple first. Making small changes to your diet over time is far more likely to succeed than completely changing your diet over night. If you aren’t saving at all right now, think about taking coffee to work instead of stopping at Starbucks and put that money in a savings account. Look at your budget and change it in a realistic way.
  3. They fail to set a reminder.
    People don’t just do habits, they need something to trigger them. Saying “I am going to go for a run every day” doesn’t tell you when. You need a reminder to tell you to go for the run. Reminders are normally cues for the five senses. If you decide to go running in the morning, set an alarm on your phone or put your running shoes in the bathroom so its the first thing you see. If you want to start eating an apple for your snack at work, put it out on your desk where you see it. If you want to transfer money to your savings account on pay day, set a reminder in your calendar. Make sure you can’t forget to do your habit.
  4. They don’t devise plans to handle foreseeable obstacles.
    As you are making your new habit, think about what could get in the way. Is it too hot to go running after work? In which case, run first thing in the morning. Does the vending machine at work only sell junk food? In which case, bring your own apple to work. Do your expenses fluctuate each month? In which case adjust the amount you save accordingly. The thing is, most obstacles to doing a habit are completely predictable if you think ahead realistically.

A few minutes of extra thought when creating a new habit can make a huge difference to whether or not you are able to stick to it.


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